GENEVA: Social media customers are fueling a burgeoning appetite for acquiring wild otters and other endangered animals as pets, conservationists say, warning the trend could push species towards extinction.

Well known Instagrammers posting selfies with their pet otter might basically be searching for to warm the hearts of their at times hundreds of thousands of followers, but animal protection groups say the trend is posing an existential threat to the silky mammal.

“The illegal trade in otters has all of a sudden improved exponentially,” Nicole Duplaix, who co-chairs the Otter Specialist Group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, told AFP.

All Asian otter species have extended been listed as vulnerable or endangered just after facing decades of shrinking habitats and illegal trade in their pelts.

A promotional signboard for a pet cafe that features otters is displayed at Harajuku

A promotional signboard for a pet cafe that options otters is displayed at the Harajuku district in Tokyo, Aug 21, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura)

But conservationists say the current surge in social media hype about the creatures has sparked such a frenzied demand for child otters in Asian nations, Japan in distinct, that it could drive whole species towards extinction.

Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), at present in Geneva to evaluate and fine-tune the treaty that manages trade in extra than 35,000 species of plants and animals, will think about proposals to hike protection of two especially imperiled otter species.

Risky “CUTE Issue”

The Asian modest-clawed otter and the smooth-coated otter are currently listed as threatened beneath CITES Appendix II, but India, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Philippines are asking that they are moved to Appendix I, which would imply a complete international trade ban.

Conservationists insist the move is essential, just after each species have noticed their numbers plunge at least 30 % more than 3 decades, and with the decline believed to have accelerated substantially in the previous handful of years.

“This is specially becoming fuelled by the want to have otters as an exotic pet, and social media is actually driving that,” Cassandra Koenen, who heads the Wildlife Not Pets campaign at Planet Animal Protection, told AFP.

Paul Todd of the Organic Resource Defense Council (NRDC) agreed.

“It is actually exceptional to see how the most current trends in social media and social influencing have a direct correlation with the demise of species on the ground,” he told AFP.

Well known figures on Instagram and Facebook generally rake in thousands of gushing comments about their otter photos, such as “cuteness overload”, “otterly adorable”, and “want 1!”.

Duplaix acknowledged that otters are “extremely charismatic creatures,” saying “it is the cute issue that is causing their demise.”

The photos mask the suffering of the naturally social mammals taken from the wild when they are held in captivity and isolation.

Demand for cute otter selfies puts animals at risk

A promotional signboard for a pet cafe that options otters is displayed at the Harajuku district in Tokyo, Aug 21, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura)

Koenen pointed to the several “funny videos” posted of pet otters turning in circles, saying that to a educated eye, it is clear: “The cause the animal is spinning about is that it is in large distress.”

Amid the developing demand for pet otters, hunters and fishermen in Indonesia and Thailand specially are increasingly killing adult otters and snatching the babies, which are caged and shipped off to grow to be exotic pets.

The principal location is Japan, exactly where 1 otter pup can fetch up to US$10,000 (€9,000).


Numerous “otter cafes” have also popped up in the nation, with patrons urged to obtain modest pieces of meals to feed the caged mammals and to snap a selfie with them whilst drinking a coffee.

“It is a extremely unnatural atmosphere for them,” Koenen stated, sustaining that they are generally isolated in person cages, provided poor nutrition and tiny access to water.

Pet otters might have it improved, but they nevertheless endure from becoming far from their organic atmosphere and away from the huge household groups they lived with in the wild, she stated.

Koenen also warned that smiling selfies with pet otters give a “false narrative” about what it is like to reside with the wild creatures, which smell and are prone to biting.

“They make extremely unsuitable pets,” she stated.

Social media platforms have meanwhile created it as well straightforward to obtain exotic pets like otters, she stated, sparking impulse buys with tiny reflection more than the implications of bringing a wild animal into one’s house.

Otters are not the only species suffering from a booming and generally social-media fuelled interest in exotic pets.

Amongst the 56 proposals on the table in Geneva for improved protection listings, 22 involve species – which includes lizards, geckos, tortoises and spiders – which endure for the reason that of the multi-billion-dollar exotic pet trade.

Todd stated there was mounting proof that “a species can go from totally fine to utterly gone in the matter of a handful of years for the reason that of this drive in want for photos”.

“Infant otters are dying, and for what? A selfie,” he stated. “We have to quit this.”